From dorky Dan to the ‘freezer’: What people say about Andrews
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When the time finally came for Daniel Andrews to hang up his boots, he leant on a famous Labor campaign slogan, surmising: “It’s time.”
“There’s an old saying in politics, go when they’re asking you to stay. It’s really important,” he said.
Daniel Andrews quits as Victorian premier.Credit: Cormac Lally, Marija Ercegovac
At 51, retirement – like so many of his milestones – snuck up quicker for Andrews than for many of his political contemporaries.
Elected to parliament shortly after his 30th birthday, he was Labor leader by 38 and premier at 42. Andrews’ rise through the party surprised many of his less-observant colleagues.
For many years, they took his nerdy, quiet persona as an indication that he wasn’t up to the schmoozing and wooing required to be a successful politician. But colleagues – even those who hate him – saw him as intelligent and a workaholic, both essential ingredients for a successful political career.
A few Labor types from Andrews’ vintage recognised that his reserved manner and gawky country charm masked a ruthless ambition to succeed.
Andrews has always liked to advance his regional Victorian roots, understanding their importance in combating the city-centric criticisms levelled at his government.
“A kid from the country with only really an aspiration to do good work,” was how he described himself in his resignation speech.
But it was in the seaside suburb of Williamstown where the future premier was born in 1972, to parents Jan and Bob. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Glenroy, where Andrews spent his formative years with a tight-knit family as his parents ran a shop.
As he neared the end of primary school, Bob and Jan moved the family to Wangaratta in north-east Victoria, where his father built up a small-goods franchise and farmed cattle.
Andrews with his mother Jan and wife Catherine at Jan’s farm in Wangaratta.Credit: Mark Jesser
Those colleagues who have known Andrews for the longest believe his humble start left him with a slight chip – or a scratch – on his shoulder that became his driving force to succeed.
“He seemed like he got energy from those that didn’t rate him, like he needed to prove them wrong,” one former Labor MP told The Age, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who once shared a flat with Andrews, said he had a fierce determination to make a difference.
“Daniel Andrews has never been anyone who has shirked his responsibilities,” he said.
Andrews attended Galen Catholic College and briefly toyed with the idea of attending agriculture college, but instead returned to Melbourne in 1990 to study arts. At Monash University, he lived at Mannix College, a Catholic residential hall, and met wife Catherine.
As with many political wives, Catherine has been one of his closest and most influential advisors, wooing the press gallery with fruit cakes when he was opposition leader and becoming his fiercest defender during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But many of his colleagues believe his wife and his decision to settled down early grounded him in a suburban, everyday life that helped him hone his political radar.
“That suburban stability was key to his success,” one federal Labor MP observed on Tuesday.
Andrews speaks in Victorian parliament in 2008.Credit: Angela Wylie
As a student at Monash University, he largely bypassed the student political scene, instead focusing on Canberra with a job working for federal MP Alan Griffin. This was before joining the party’s head office, initially as an organiser and then as assistant state secretary.
His Labor contemporaries described him as an incredible “upwards manager”, whip-smart and a workaholic. “He had remarkable raw talent,” one former Labor MP observed.
From his early days in politics, Andrews worked hard, wooed the right people and did the messy, factional work required of any serious politician, says another Labor MP who knew him at the time.
“He was heavier then and looked quite dorky and many people didn’t see him as a future politician let alone a premier, but he had all the right stuff,” one member of the Labor Caucus said.
After his election to state parliament in 2002, Andrews rose quickly through the ranks, first serving under former premier Steve Bracks and then John Brumby. Several of his colleagues believe he absorbed the strengths of both leaders during those years, which helped him to leapfrog their time at Treasury Place.
As with all politicians, it’s often those colleagues – the unelected ones – who see the real person behind the persona. One former member of his staff, speaking on the condition of anonymity, observed that Bracks was often viewed as warm and friendly by the public, but in the office he was more reserved. Brumby, on the other hand, was often seen as aloof in public, but staff spoke of a warm and generous boss.
“He was the perfect combination of both those leaders,” the former staffer said.
But Andrews’ reputation as a ruthless political operator is well known. Almost all of his colleagues have spent time in Andrews’ “freezer” – where he sidelined MPs, refusing to return their calls and ignoring their ideas and input to decision-making.
“He has no hesitation in throwing people under the bus when he is done with them,” said one former Labor MP.
Some of those who stood up to him, such as former MPs Jane Garrett, Fiona Richardson and Gavin Jennings, felt the full blast of that freezer.
Former Victoria police minister Lisa Neville observed: “Some may not have always liked him, but he was definitely respected.”
Andrews may seem uncompromising, but colleagues and staff who earned his loyalty and respect speak of his incredible generosity and kindness.
Andrews with then federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese in early May 2022.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
They talk of Andrews making personal phone calls and visits following personal tragedies, including marriage breakdowns or family deaths. Of remembering the names of staffers’ children and parents and inquiring about them regularly. He had the same driver for 17 years.
“Contrary to the image, he can be incredibly loyal and will give staff numerous chances,” one former Labor staffer said.
“He is actually lovely and incredibly loyal,” another current member of the Premier’s Private Office observed.
Instead, Andrews reserves his brutality for his enemies, both internally and across the political aisle. He is known to have a deeply funny, but often nasty sense of humour, with his jokes almost exclusively at the expense of others.
“I don’t think the public ever saw just how funny he was,” one federal Labor MP said following the resignation.
"He has an incredible nasty sense of humour, and he enjoys the brutality of politics."
To colleagues, it always appeared that he enjoyed opposition – perhaps not more than government – but he found happiness dispatching premiers Ted Ballieu and Denis Napthine and defeating opposition leader Matthew Guy.
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